What do you do?
My main responsibility is to provide a wide range of inter-pretive services for visitors. These include naturalist led walks, evening programs, guest speaker programs, tours, workshops, field trips, and demonstrations as well as non-personal ser-vices such as brochures, exhibits, self-guided trails and tours,
radio show and most recently podcasts, flood DVD and a
touch screen exhibit. Subjects these services deal with include
outdoor recreation, resource management, history, area plants
and animals, caves/groundwater, fossils and watershed management. Other responsibilities include outreach, public relations, resource management, volunteers, assistants/interns, interpretive facilities/equipment, and administration.
What inspired you to become a park naturalist?
My parents provided me with many early outdoor exper-iences that kindled in me a love for the out-of-doors. These experiences included hiking, camping, canoeing, birding, nature photography, fishing and hunting. Some elementary school teachers saw my interests and provided me with books and experiences that kept my curiosity growing. In college I met people that were working as naturalists in nature centers. This was the time of the first Earth Day, the Endangered Species Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. I decided that I wanted to do something with my life that would help protect the environment. My training, experiences and timing were fortunate. In the early 1970’s the State Park System expanded its Interpretive Services in response to the public’s increased interest and concern for the state’s natural resources. My 35-year career began at Whitewater State Park in 1974.
What is the best aspect of your job?
What I enjoy best about my job is the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for Whitewater’s and the state’s spectacular natural resources. Hopefully my enthusiasm leads to the increased interest, understanding and concern of park visitors, which in turn leads to more public involvement in effective natural resource management.
Describe your relationship with volunteers & what they do?
The time and talents that volunteers have given to Whitewater State Park over the years is nearly immeasurable. In many respects they have made the park what it is today. Their volunteer efforts include: flood recovery (Whitewater had over 5 million dollars damage done to infrastructure from a major flood in August 2007), interpretive programs, tree and shrub planting, seed collection and planting, bluebird box maintenance, litter pick up, fund raising, bird surveys, rare turtle rescues, historic house maintenance, teaching kids to fish, serving as campground hosts, maintaining geocaches and much more. I co-coordinate Whitewater’s volunteer effort with the assistant park manager. In this role I plan volunteer projects, and then recruit, train and supervise volunteers. After the historic flood of 2007 I was, and still am, touched by the obvious love Minnesotans have for their state parks. People called the park, crying about the impacts of the flood. People’s concern for Whitewater was also made obvious by the unbelievable volunteer response to flood recovery needs. Since the flood,
over 1,000 different volunteers have worked over 7,300 hours to restore the park! An additional 1,700 hours have been donated in this same time period for non-flood related projects. Take a minute to absorb those numbers. They are indeed impressive! Working with volunteers at Whitewater is therapeutic. Their dedication and enthusiasm motivate me to do my job better.
What advice can you give others who’d like to pursue a naturalist career or who are interested in volunteering?
Minnesota had, and I assume still has, more nature centers per capita than any state in the country. Many seasoned naturalists are late in their careers. As a result there will likely be a great deal of turnover in these next five to ten years. People with college degrees in related fields, that are willing to move and accept seasonal positions will have the best chance of eventually securing a full time job as a naturalist. Training and experience in natural resource management, interpretation and education are very important. A good way to get some of that experience is to volunteer at a park. In Minnesota State Parks you can contact the Manager or Naturalist of the park you’d like to work at and/or contact the DNR Volunteer Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (651) 259-5249. There are many great, valuable experiences waiting for you!